Mail call brought another TIME magazine from my father-in-law. It was from December and had an article about the number of deaths in the war since 1961. This week 31 Americans had died in a 24-hour period. Sixteen of them were KIA south of Da Nang, and one of them (unknown which one) was the 30,000th death in the war. Nearly half of the war’s total (14,440) had died in 1968.
This was incomprehensible to me. The news on Armed Forces Radio and the Stars and Stripes continued with stories of successful operations throughout Vietnam . . . somewhere there was an obvious disconnect in reporting of the news.
In the candlelight of our hooch, Sumo, Reb, Fernando and I had a spirited conversation about the TIME magazine article. It wasn’t a political discussion. We talked about freedom of the press and our right to know the truth about the war. Reb was the most vocal, and he believed our government was lying to us. Fernando thought that reporting all these deaths could be used as propaganda in the North and that it was better to use discretion with this news.
This subject was not for Marines to question; we had a mission and would stay focused on helping the South Vietnamese maintain control of their country. The idea that we were “honoring our commitments” had a hollow ring to it, but we felt conflicted. It seemed like Americans were dying for nothing.